Monday, October 16, 2017

Death Merchant: An Insider's View

A big thanks to Allan Wood of the World of Joseph Rosenberger blog for transcribing this and emailing it to me, for publication here – this is the Death Merchant writeup by Joseph Rosenberger that ran in the back of some Pinnacle books in the early ‘80s. It was originally written for a free flyer Pinnacle gave out in bookstores in the late ‘70s (hence the “1978” reference toward the end of the piece).

 Anyway, please enjoy this “insider’s view” into the Death Merchant, courtesy the fevered imagination of its (possibly insane) creator!

An insider's view of the Death Merchant— A master of disguise, deception, and destruction . . . and his job is death. 

by Joseph Rosenberger 

One of Pinnacle's best-selling action series is the Death Merchant, which tells the story of an unusual man who is a master of disguise and an expert in exotic and unusual firearms: Richard Camellion. Dedicated to eliminating injustice from the world, whether on a personal, national, or international level, possessed of a coldly logical mind, totally fearless, he has become over the years an unofficial, unrecognized, but absolutely essential arm of the CIA. He takes on the dirty jobs, the impossible missions, the operations that cannot be handled by the legal or extralegal forces of this or other sympathetic countries. He is a man without a face, without a single identifying characteristic. He is known as the master of the three Ds—Death, Destruction, and Disguise. He is, in fact and in theory, the Death Merchant. 

The conception of the "Death Merchant" did not involve any instant parthenogenesis, but a parentage whose partnership is more ancient than recorded history. The father of Richard Camellion was Logic. The mother, Realism. 

Logic involved the realization that people who read fiction want to be entertained and that real-life truth is often stranger and more fantastic than the most imaginative kind of fiction. Realism embraced the truth that any human being, having both emotional and physical weaknesses, is prone to mistakes and can accomplish only so much in any given situation. 

We are born into a world in which we find ourselves surrounded by physical objects. There seems to be still another—a subjective—world within us, capable of receiving and retaining impressions from the outside world. Each one is a world of its own, with a relation to space different from that of the other. Collectively, these impressions and how they are perceived on the individual level make each human being a distinct person, an entity with his own views and opinions, his own likes and dislikes, his own personal strengths and weaknesses.

As applied to the real world, this means that the average human is actually a complex personality, a bundle of traits that very often are in conflict with each other, traits that are both good and bad. In fiction this means that the writer must show his chief character to be "human," i.e., to give the hero a multiplicity of traits, some good, some bad.

At the same time, Logic demands that in action-adventure the hero cannot be a literal superman and achieve the impossible. Our hero cannot jump into a crowd of fifty villains and flatten them with his bare hands—even if he is the best karate expert in the world! Sheer weight of numbers would bring him to his knees.

Accordingly, the marriage between Logic and Realism had to be, out of necessity, a practical union, one that would have to live in two worlds: the world of actuality and the world of fiction. This partnership would have to take the best from these two worlds to conceive a lead character who, while incredible in his deeds, could have a counterpart in the very real world of the living.

Conception was achieved. The Death Merchant was born in February of 1971, in the first book of the series, Death Merchant.

This genesis was not without the elements that would shape the future accomplishments of Richard J. Camellion. Just as a real human being is the product of his gene-ancestry and, to a certain extent, of his environment during his formative years, so the fictional Richard Camellion also has a history, although one will have to read the entire series to glean his background and training.

There are other continuities and constants within the general structure of the series. For example, it might seem that the Death Merchant tackles the absurd and the inconceivable. He doesn't. He succeeds in his missions because of his training and experience, with emphasis on the former—training in the arts and sciences, particularly in the various disciplines that deal not only with the physical violence and self-defense, but with the various tricks of how to stay alive—self-preservation!

There are many other cornerstones that form the foundation of the general story line:

 Richard Camellion abhors boredom, loves danger and adventure, and feels that he may as well derive a good income from these qualities. The fact that he often has to take a human life does not make him brutal and cruel.

 Richard Camellion works for money; he's a modern mercenary. Nevertheless, he is a man with moral convictions and deeply rooted loyalties. He will not take on any job if its success might harm the United States.

 The Death Merchant usually works for the CIA or some other U.S. government agency. The reason is very simple. Richard Camellion handles only the most dangerous projects and/or the biggest threats. In today's world the biggest battles involve the silent but very real war being waged between the various intelligence communities of the world. This war is basically between freedom and tyranny, between Democracy and Communism. 

(The Death Merchant has worked for non-government agencies, but he has seldom worked for individuals because few can pay his opening fee: $100,000. Usually, those individuals who could and would pay his fee, such as members of organized crime, couldn't buy his special talents for ten times that, cash in advance.)

 The Death Merchant is a pragmatic realist. He is not a hypocrite and readily admits that he works mainly for money. In his words, "While money doesn't bring happiness, if you have a lot of the green stuff you can be unhappy in maximum comfort." Yet he has been known to give his entire fee—one hundred grand—to charity!

 Richard Camellion did not originate the title "Death Merchant." He hates the title, considering it both silly and incongruous. But he can't deny it. He does deal in death. The nickname came about because of his deadly proficiency with firearms and other devices of the quick-kill. (All men die, and Camellion knows that it is only a question of when. He has never feared death, "Which is maybe one reason why I have lived as long as I have.")

 The weapons and equipment used in the series do exist. (Not only does the author strive for realism and authenticity, but technical advice is constantly being furnished by Lee E. Jurras, the noted ballistician and author.)

Another support of the general plot is that Camellion is a master of disguise and makeup, and a superb actor as well. 

It can be said that Richard Camellion, the Death Merchant, is the heart of the series; but action—fast-paced, violent, often bloody—is the life's blood that keeps the heart pumping. This is not merely a conceptual device of the author; it is based on realistic considerations. The real world is violent. Evil does exist. The world of adventure and of espionage is especially violent. 

The Death Merchant of 1971 is not necessarily the same Death Merchant of 1978. In organizing the series, we did use various concepts in constructing the background and the character of Richard Camellion. 

Have any of these concepts changed? 

The only way to answer the question is to say that while these concepts are still there and have not changed as such, many of them have not matured and are still in the limbo of "adolescence." For example: 

We have not elaborated on several phases of his early background, or given any reasons why Camellion decided to follow a life of danger. He loves danger? An oversimplification. Who first called him the Death Merchant? What kind of training did he have? At times he will murmur, "Dominus Lucis vobiscum." What do the words "The Lord of Life be with you" mean to Camellion? 

All the answers, and more, will be found in future books in the series. 

Camellion's role is obvious. He's the "good guy" fighting on the side of justice. He's a man of action who is very sure of himself in anything he undertakes; a ruthless, cold-blooded cynic who doesn't care if he lives or dies; an expert killing machine whose mind runs in only one groove: getting the job done. One thing is certain: he is not a Knight on a White Horse! He has all the flaws and faults that any human being can have. 

Camellion is a firm believer in law, order, and justice, but he doesn't think twice about bending any law and, if necessary, breaking it. He's an individualist, honest in his beliefs, a nonconformist. 

He also seems to be a health nut. He doesn't smoke, indulges very lightly in alcohol, is forever munching on "natural" snacks (raisins, nuts, etc.), and uses Yoga methods of breathing and exercise. 

Richard Camellion is not the average champion/hero. He never makes a move unless the odds are on his side. He may seem reckless, but he isn't. 

Richard Camellion wouldn't turn down a relationship with a woman, but he doesn't go out of his way to find one. The great love of his life is weapons, particularly his precious Auto Mags. 

As a whole, readers' reactions are very favorable to the series. It is they who keep Richard Camellion alive and healthy. 

The real father and mother of Richard Camellion is Joseph Rosenberger. A professional writer since the age of 21, when he sold an article, he worked at various jobs before turning to fulltime writing in 1961. Rosenberger is the author of almost 2,000 published short stories and articles and 150 books, both fiction and nonfiction, writing in his own name and several pseudonyms. He originated the first kung fu fiction books, under the name of "Lee Chang." Among other things, he has been a circus pitchman, an instructor in "Korean karate," a private detective, and a free-lance journalist. 

Unlike the Death Merchant, the author is not interested in firearms, and does not like to travel. He is the father of a 23-year-old daughter, lives and writes in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, and is currently hard at work on the latest adventure of Richard Camellion, the Death Merchant.


Matthew said...

That does not sound like the Death Merchant from the two books I've read. He's pure mercenary killer not a "good guy." Of course, Rosenberger probably thinks he is but he was off his rocker. I tend to think of Camillion as a sociopath who thinks he's a good guy. Frankly, he seems more to hate Communism than love America.

The part about his great love being weapons seems true. I can see the DM polishing his guns over and over.

Brian Drake said...

Has anyone thought to try and find the daughter to see if she holds the rights to the books? It would be neat -- or masochistic, depending on your point of view -- if they came out in ebook editions. :)

John M. Cowan said...

I remember reading this at the back of a Death Merchant book in the 1970s, and laughing even then at the absurdity of it. These days Rosenberger's idea of "logic" and "realism" reminds me of Inigo Monotoya: "I do not think that word means what you think it means."

By the way, to "FreeLiveFree" (great novel by Gene Wolfe, by the way), you're right: Camellion is basically a sociopath who certainly has no idea what America stands for, as long as he gets to kill pig farmers, commies, terrorist scum, and the occasional civilian who inconveniently gets in his way.

allan said...

Has anyone thought to try and find the daughter to see if she holds the rights to the books?

I found her in early 2015. At that time she said she was willing to answer some questions about him, but she did not actually respond until very recently. Back in 2015, I shared my writing background/credentials with her, laid out a little bit about what I knew about JRR, and said I hoped to write something about his career. After that, there was nothing but silence for 2.5 years. Her reply came completely out of the blue. Her first sentence was: "You seem to know more about my father than I do".

She is reluctant to talk about him, but we have corresponded a little bit and I hope she is willing to continue. (As far as going public with what she has said, I have not even considered asking her about that at this point. And if/when that happens, I'll respect her decision.)

She says she doesn't know much about his writing career, so I'm assuming she does not hold any rights. Actually, I don't think he ever held the rights when he was alive. Everything belonged to his publisher. Weren't the books basically work-for-hire deals, with a flat fee and no royalties? Maybe when the DM series was more successful, he got some extra ... I'm not sure. (I think he talks about that in the 1985 letter.)

allan said...

Camellion is basically a sociopath who certainly has no idea what America stands for

His attitude towards the US flip-flops a lot. In some books, he defends it as the greatest place on earth, a country that can do no wrong, but in other books, he says it's a horrible, ruined mess and is quickly going down the tubes with no hope for survival.

Camellion also mentions the contentions between Israel and Palestine many times in the series. But he has no consistent view on that, either. Depending on the book you read, he might be 100% in one camp, and in the next book 100% the other way - with no acknowledgement that he ever felt differently! ... Maybe Rosenberger's opinions fluctuated in real life, too, but it's still pretty strange. At least he didn't have Camellion advocating for socialism in every fifth book!

Matthew said...

Well, Rosenberger was greatly contradictory in his novels. In the one Kung fu of his, he has Mace kill about forty guys and then talks about how he was true to his pacifistic leanings.

Allan, I did a brief look through your sight Allan. I'm not sure I'd want to read that much Death Merchant even though I have a bizarre fascination with it.

allan said...

I seem to still be of sound mind. ... And I am looking forward to - after the last two DM books - going back in time and reading the Mace and Murder Masters. Since they are from the early-to-mid-70s, I'm hoping for a return of Rosenberger's sense of humour, which disappeared about halfway through the DM series.

Matthew said...

The Mace I read was a chore. It seemed funny at times, but I'm not sure it was intentional. Mace gives lectures about the up coming end of the world through nuclear war in one chapter for no real reason. The other characters are so amazed at him and nod in agreement. Yeesh.

I've always been interested in the Murder Masters. There was a Shadow villain called that I believe. Also, it's Rosenberger writing a black character and that has got to be weird as hell.

allan said...

The main character in the three Murder Masters is named "Louis Luther King"!

Matthew said...

Just out of curiosity, does any of the DM books explain exactly what "the Cosmic Lord of Death" actually is? He talks about it a lot, but it's not real clear.

Maybe the Death Merchant worships Azathoth?

allan said...

Just out of curiosity, does any of the DM books explain exactly what "the Cosmic Lord of Death" actually is?

Off the top of my head, no. Just kind of a spirit, I suppose. RC does not pray to him or anything. He and the CLoD have "an understanding". Maybe he protects Camellion from catching a slug.

Matthew said...

I should have known it was just Rosenberger being crazy.